Pittosporum tenuifolium

Red glossy leaves of the plant Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb'.
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’
  • Common name: Tawhiwhi, Kohoho, Tom Thumb
  • Type: Hardy evergreen shrub
  • Flowering:
  • Height and spread: 0.5 – 1 m
  • Soil: Moist but well drained
  • Aspect: Sun or partial shade
  • Hardiness: Hardy
  • Care: Easy

Want to find it at Reveley?  Look in the Clay Lane bed.

The Pittosporum group of plants consists of evergreen shrubs or small trees. The plants have small leathery leaves – usually borne on black stems, and, depending on the variety the leaves range from glossy dark green to cream and pale green variegation and, in the case of ‘Tom Thumb’, dark purple glossy leaves.  Tenuifolium means thin leaved.

Native to New Zealand, tawhiwhi/kohuhu is the plant’s Maori name, where it grows wild in coastal and lower mountain forest areas.  Pittosporum dislike having their roots in very wet soil.    

‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful, small shrub with a rounded habit.  It has an RHS award of garden merit because it is able to grow in British gardens.  ‘Tom Thumb’ is slow growing which makes it ideal for the front of a border, providing winter structure and interest.  In spring the new growth is light green, which contrasts attractively with the dark purple of the older foliage.  This low and easy maintenance plant is also the perfect foil to other border plants.

‘Tom Thumb’ can be used as a low hedging plant, possibly as an alternative to Buxus, as it is virtually pest and disease free.

Other varieties of pittosporum bear small, almost insignificant flowers, which release a strong, honey scent at night, although the flowers on ‘Tom Thumb’ are few and far between. 

Plants can be susceptible to powdery mildew.

Propagation is by semi hardwood cuttings in summer. 

Maori had many uses for Pittosporum tenuifolium – such as mixing the resin and oils extracted from the leaves with other gums which could be chewed as a cure for bad breath. But please, don’t try this at home.